The East Village is a fantastic neighborhood for connecting with urban nature. In addition to the beloved Tompkins Square Park, which features two playgrounds and a mini pool as well as wildflower-filled grassy lawns, there are 39 community gardens, including some of the oldest in all of New York City.
These locally-founded and run green spaces are more than just a place to grow plants or vegetables. They function as outdoor community centers and frequently host art installations and family performances. That all seems even more impressive when you realize that most of these gardens were once piles of rubble before neighbors partnered with wonderful nonprofits like Green Guerrillas and Green Thumb NYC to bring these oases to life.
Our month-long focus on the East Village continues with a look at seven particularly family-friendly community gardens, as well as three favorite neighborhood parks. Warning: Before you head to a community garden, check its official website for opening hours as those vary wildly—remember they're all volunteer operated!
Tompkins Square Park
7th to 10th Streets between Avenues A and B
Far removed from its gritty and violent past, the 10½-acre Tompkins Square Park is the best place in all of the East Village for kids to get their sillies out. There are two wonderful playgrounds, though we're partial to the more recently renovated one on the west side featuring tire sings, challenging climbing structures, sprinklers and a sandbox. There are also basketball and handball courts, a very popular dog run, an outdoor mini pool that's open in summer, beautifully maintained lawns, gardens and trees, and ever-important bathrooms. The park is also well known for its funky performances and programming. While most of it isn't kid-friendly (or even appropriate), the annual spring Great Howl! Out Loud Kids' Carnival is a family favorite filled with art projects and live entertainment.
6th & B Garden
6th Street and Avenue B
Opened in 1982, this busy community garden overflows with trees, shrubs, herbs, flowers, veggies and lots of cool events. In spring, summer and fall, there's something going on almost every weekend, from live jazz to origami to nature programs to mosaic workshops taught by legendary East Village artist Jim Power (a.k.a. the Mosaic Man). All afternoon events are family-friendly and FREE, and the stage is covered and has a sound system. Don't miss the massive sculpture of NYC "street treasures" (a.k.a. eye-catching trash) created by a member.
6BC Botanical Garden
6th Street between Avenues B and C
Located just down the block from 6th & B, this lush and densely planted garden is also a winner. Red-brick pathways curl through beds of flowers and herbs, birdhouses attract a variety of feathered creatures, a pond and waterfall are hidden near the back, and a fanciful wooden structure houses a shed below and a small library above. There's even a garden cat who makes occasional appearances. Check the calendar for public events like concerts and readings.
Liz Christy Community Garden
East Houston Street between Bowery and Second Avenue
With its meandering pathways, a koi and turtle pond, tall weeping birch trees, vegetable and herb patches, and inviting benches, this peaceful spot has the distinction of being NYC's first community garden. Created out of a rubble-filled empty lot in 1973, this plot of green was named for one of its founders. Today, the garden continues to blossom and visitors are encouraged to ask the volunteers questions about the plantings. Playing isn't allowed but it's a great place to read a book or just enjoy a little downtime surrounded by nature. Donations to the collection basket go to pay for tools and supplies.
Creative Little Garden
530 East Sixth Street between Avenues A and B
Opened in the early '80s, this small garden is pretty and mellow. A huge variety of plants line the winding wood-chip path, and there is a waterfall and an imposing willow tree. Kids will get a kick out of trying to spot the many birdhouses hidden in the foliage. There are occasional events so it's worth checking the calendar.
Green Oasis Community Garden & Gilbert's Sculpture Garden
8th Street between Avenues C and D
Apple, cherry and peach trees grow tall in this pretty garden that was rescued from the rubble in 1981. Visitors will discover a recently restored red gazebo, a koi pond, a children's garden and play spot, and four beehives. Check the website for fun annual events like pumpkin carving and a lantern festival for families.
La Plaza Cultural de Armando Perez
9th Street and Avenue C
With a schedule chock-full of great cultural events, this garden really catches your eye. Surrounded by a chain-link fence decorated with all sorts of colorful creations made from from recycled materials, this green spot focuses on community art and live entertainment more than cultivated greenery.
1st Street and First Avenue
Originally opened in 1935, this playground got a major facelift in the late '90s with swings, climbing structures, sprinklers, basketball and handball courts, and mature London plane and honey locust trees shading its benches. While it's no destination playground, it will do for a quick play pit stop. Bonus: Nonprofit First Street Green has turned First Park into an "open art space" by helping to curate a series of installations and live performances there.
All People's Garden
293 East 3rd Street between Avenues C and D
This pretty and very green little garden has a gazebo, benches, nice brick landscaping and steps, and picnic tables. It dates back to 1978.
Joseph C. Sauer Park
12th Street and Avenue B
Renovated in the early '90s, this standard playground includes climbing structures with slides, sprinklers, lots of shady benches, chess tables, a pretty vine arbor and a small children's garden.
For a comprehensive list of community gardens in the area, check out Community Gardens of the East Village.
Find out about other wonderful NYC green spaces in our Parks & Playgrounds Guide.